The Robinson Library >> Naval Science
Nautical Terms

Abaft means to the rear of.
Aft means toward, at or near the
Amidships means in the middle portion of a vessel, halfway between the
bow and stern.

Ballast is any weight placed in the lowest part of a ship to help keep her stable.
Beam is the width of a ship at its widest point.
Below means under the main
deck -- what a landsman calls "downstairs."
Bilge is the rounded part of a ship's
hull, between the side and bottom.
Binnacle is the stand that holds a ship's compass.
Bitt is a deck post, usually used in pairs, for securing mooring lines to the ship.
Boom is a long, heavy spar for hoisting cargo.
Bow is the forward part of the ship.
Bridge is the elevated platform above the main deck from which a vessel is steered and navigated.
Bulkheads are walls that divide a ship into compartments.
Bulwarks are low metal walls built around the main and upper decks to help prevent waves from breaking over the decks, and to keep people and/or objects from falling or being washed overboard.
Bunker is a compartment for carrying coal or fuel oil.

Capstan is an upright steel drum adapted to heaving in lines.
Caulking means to make tight a seam between planks.
Chain Locker is the compartment in which the anchor chain is stored.
Coaming is a low curb that keeps water out of hatchways or skylights.
Companionway refers to the steps that lead from one deck to another.
Crow's-Nest is a small platform high on a mast from which a seaman keeps his lookout.

Davits are pairs of cranes used to lower lifeboats over the side.
Deck corresponds to the floor of a building.
Derricks are lifting devices that lower cargo into or hoist it out of the holds.
Draft is the depth of water that a vessel draws, measured fromthe water line to the bottom of the

Fore means toward, at or near the bow.
Forecastle is a raised deck near the bow. It also refers to the crew's quarters in the forward part of a ship.
Forepeak is the space below the forecastle.
Forward means toward the front of a ship.
Freeboard is the distance from the waterline to the main deck.
Funnel is the smokestack of a ship.

Galley is the kitchen.
Gangway is a walkway from a pier to a ship.

Hatch is an opening in the deck through which cargo is lowered into or hoisted out of a hold.
Hawser is a large rope used to secure a ship to a pier.
Head is the term for a ship's toilet. So called because it was usually placed in the bow of most early English ships.
Helm is a ship's steering wheel.
Holds are areas below deck in which cargo is stored.
Hull is the body of a ship, not counting superstructure and machinery.

Keel is the backbone of a ship, running from bow to stern along the lowest part of the hull.
Knot is a unit of speed equal to one nautical mile (6,076.1 feet) an hour.

Lee Side is the side of a ship away from the wind.

Mooring is the anchoring or tying of a ship to a pier, buoy or another ship.

Outboard means toward or beyond the side of a ship.

Port is the left side of the ship, when facing forward. To avoid damaging the steer-board (see starboard) a ship docked and unloaded cargo on the left-hand side of the ship.

Quarter refers to a section on each side of a ship near the stern.
Quarterdeck on naval ships, is the part of the main deck set aside for ceremonies.

Roll is the motion of a vessel from side to side.

Starboard is the right side of the ship, when facing forward. This term came from "steer-board," so called because the steering oar or board normally projected on the right-hand side of the ship.
Stem is the extreme forward end of the ship.
Stern is the extreme rear of a ship.
Superstructure consists of all the structures on a ship that rise above the main deck.

Waist is the central section of a ship.
Waterline is the lowest visible part of a hull when in the water.
Windward Side is the side of a ship from which the wind is blowing.

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This page was last updated on 08/08/2017.